In the distant epoch of the Eastern Han Dynasty arises the figure of
Ma Yong (79-166 AD), the Confucian scholar who wrote the famous poem
"Weiqi Fu": "Weiqi Rhapsody".
The poem is included in the famous poetry anthology "Shi Jing", in the
section "Minor odes". In fact, the roots of the canonical variant of
"Shi Jin" lie in the "List of Mao" and the commentaries to it provided
by none other than Ma Yong himself and published under the title
"Verse in the list of the scholar Mao with commentary by Ma Yong" ("Ma
Yong Shi Ju").
The English translation is by John Fairbairn, the Bulgarian one -- by
"Weiqi Fu" by Ma Yong
”First the four corners are occupied
To protect them and influence the sides,
Then along the sides the lines are blocked
So that the scattered stones gaze at one another from afar.
Then come knight's moves large and small,
Now far apart, now one on one,
As groups jump out in leaps and bounds
And make their way into the center.
Having escaped they stop and prepare to move:
To fly to left or right?
Where the way is narrow and the enemy more numerous
They will be unable to go far.
But if themselves more numerous yet lacking plans,
They will bunch aimlessly like a flock of sheep
And will forever be on the defensive
As the opponent snaps at them on all sides.
Instead attack where the enemy is overstretched,
seek out his defects
And send thunderbolts crashing in to his vital points.
If there is profit, you will then have time to take it;
If there is opportunity, you can make yourself strong.
But if you are too greedy to capture his stones,
He will break down your walls
And when the dike bursts it will not be stopped
But will overflow and the flood reach far and wide.”
For us, it is interesting to look at the poem from the perspective of
weiqi theory. The poem speaks for itself. From it, the high art of the
game in these distant times is evident. It is even more interesting
that metaphors are drawn in to describe weiqi theory. It can be seen
how some later proverbs have ensued, who have almost become axioms.
For example: "First attend to corners, then sides, then center."; "Use
knight's moves to attack."; "Don't get carried away capturing the
opponent's stones." Thus it can be seen how weiqi theory, metaphors,
and poetry are organically connected.
There is too little evidence to assert that it was actually Ma Yong
who created these metaphors, but one thing is clear: weiqi theory at
the time was at a very high level, something unseen for other games in
other geographic locations. Both translators of the poem share this
From here our interest shifts to Ma Yong. Indeed, what is known about
him? Not much on first sight: researchers usually spare him no more
than a few lines. Searching for further information is hampered by the
fact that his name is spelled in different ways: Ma Yong, Ma Hun, Ma
Rong, all referring to the same person.
The scholar lived in a turbulent epoch, a time of great crisis in the
Han Empire. The time is in part interesting for the major political
confrontation of the eunuchs and Confucians in the emperor's court.
There is no evidence that Ma Yong took part in these difficult and
dangerous political fights where "the one who makes a wrong move"
often pays with his life, but it is possible that he had students in
the emperor's court since many of the emperors are known for their
penchant for weiqi.
Ma Yong founded a Confucian academy. In the book of the famous
historian Fan E from the Tang epoch, it is shown that about twenty
scientists founded their own schools in the middle of the second
century. These private academies were in a certain ideological
opposition to the Emperor's Academy. The latter was engaged in the so
called "new texts" or the construction of Han myths which had an
important role in the government of the Empire.
The academies akin to Ma Yong's were involved with the "old texts" or
the things which later pass as "apocryphal materials". Ma Yong's
academy however is sufficiently authoritative and influential. Thus Ma
Yong had 400 ordinary and 50 especially advanced students which had
the right to enter the "main hall" for a meeting with him. It is
interesting that his student, the remarkable scholar Чжен Сюан, never
met him during his three years of stay at the academy.
Actually, what was studied in these academies? Without doubt, the Five
Classics, the five principal Confucian books. Ma Yong's example also
shows that the formation of the "Four Arts" (calligraphy, music,
poetry, weiqi) is under way. This is confirmed by the fact that Ma
Yong has further written the poems "Ode on Flute" and "Ode on цин".
But the deeds and life of Ma Yong show that among the educated and
erudite people, weiqi had a deserved prestige.
Ma Yong was a researcher of the "old texts". As it is well known
today, "new is well-forgotten old". This shows that he is an
uncompromising explorer of the truth and is not interested in the
fashions of time.
Ma Yong also left a trace in research on I Ching, the Book of
Changes, even though not as bright one as his student Чжен Сюан. But
they both carry out the thread of the "old texts" there and it is
possible that Чжен Сюан inherited the problematic of Ma Yong.
Ma Yong is the first Confucian scholar to make a commentary on the
Taoist treatise of Lao Tse "Tao Te Ching". And with this he paves
the way of the exceptional Wang Bi (226-249) to investigate "Tao Te
Ching" from the same perspective. Wang Bi also continues his
explorations of the "old and apocryphal texts" and the natural
conclusion is the formation of "сюан сюе" or "the secret and inmost
science". From here "сюан сюе" treats religions without prejudices and
prepares their convergence. In this way, Confucianism and Taoism,
together with Buddhism, form the foundation of the "three religions"
characteristic of the Chinese. This harmony between religions makes
the rise of Tang Dynasty China (618-907) possible, which becomes the
world's leading cultural state.
Wang Bi, alas, dies at the young age of 23 but without doubt abides by
the words of Confucius: "If you understand the truth in the morning,
you can die in the evening." Wang Bi lives and creates in the Three
Kingdoms Period in the House of Wei, among three generations of
remarkable strategists and weiqi players: the famous general Cao Cao,
his grandfather, and his son and future emperor Cao Pi.
So, what is Ma Yong's message to future generations? One of the
possible answers is: harmony and tolerance, founded on broad
What is Ma Yong's message to future weiqi players? Ma Yong is a
connecting figure of things seeming distant only on first sight.
Without doubt the scholar shows through his life that these things can
be connected. Erudition gives a very broad frame for the development
and course of life of the weiqi player. Confucianism gives the
ethicality in competitive practice. Looking at the past and the "old
texts" gives a fresh view over modern times. Poetry gives us freedom
of expression and flight of the imagination. Taoism gives depth in
searching and treating of paradoxes, and weiqi is a paradox from
beginning to end. I Ching seeks the hidden connection between
phenomena and the way they transform. Teaching gives a new impulse to
the understanding of weiqi theory. Aren't all these things important
for gaining perfection?
Translated into English by St.Traykov